Is mutual understanding possible?
Berlinde De Bruyckere

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Pera Museum, in collaboration with Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), is one of the main venues for this year’s 15th Istanbul Biennial from 16 September to 12 November 2017.  Through the biennial, we will be sharing detailed information about the artists and the artworks.

One could say that clothing was the first architecture used by humans. Before building houses, early nomadic humans wrapped pelts or furs around themselves to warm and protect them. Arguably, today, clothing and fabrics are still linked to architectural forms, whether structurally or in the sense of shelter and cover.

Berlinde de Bruyckere has long incorporated blankets into her sculptures. While used primarily for warmth, blankets are also tools for disguise and hiding. De Bruyckere’s work Spreken (1999) extends this link, becoming a fraught and intense allegory for human communication, stealth and union, intimacy and speech. In the dual statuette, two human figures stand upright, interlocked or leaning closely into one another, as if conversing through whispers; the figures are hidden under blankets with floral designs.

With its ambiguity as to whether these figures are successfully communicating, the work seems to ask: can two humans ever speak to one another in any meaningful sense? Is mutual understanding possible?

Who can speak for and to whom? It also suggests contemporary questions present in the world today: is human communication becoming increasingly private with less visibility and access to a public? Or have the figures created a kind of furtive ‘home’ for themselves in order to speak freely in the only private place where they can do so? In this case, must intimacy and understanding mean withdrawal? Is this a depiction of free speech under threat – and if so, by whom?

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As well as asking questions about the possibility and vulnerability of human communication, the blankets in the work invoke notions of human warmth and co-habitation, and even the relationship of communication and intimate spaces to questions of gender: the two figures appear to be naked save for the blankets, since their bare feet and legs are exposed. Perhaps the ultimate question asked by the work is whether intimacy can emerge between people despite the inevitability of human miscommunication and misunderstanding.

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